Why Would Someone Choose a Frameless Pack Over Internal or External Frame Packs?

There are many reasons why you would want to have a framed backpack, and they are easily understandable. But there are also a few reasons why some people rather choose frameless packs.

Here are some possible reasons for choosing a frameless backpacks:

  1. Body shape not suitable for a framed design.
  2. When you want to have your hips free for a wide range of movements.
  3. When you use a climbing harness.
  4. When you do not want to have a hip belt.
  5. When you carry a small day pack with not much weight.
  6. Frameless packs may be more affordable.
  7. Frameless packs may be lighter.

There may be more reasons, but in any case, those presented in the list are discussed below in the text.

Why Would Someone Choose a Frameless Pack. Tope picture with a group of hikers carrying backpacks and walking in a row.

First thing first, what is an unframed or frameless backpack?

So this is a type without any rigid structure that would give a shape to the pack or make it self-supporting. In such packs, the load itself is supposed to provide support and shape to the pack.

This also implies that loading a frameless pack may be trickier than loading a framed pack. The pack is supposed to adapt to your back shape, but this may be difficult if there are some items inside that are wrongly positioned and they poke into your back.

For such reasons, some people put a sleeping pad inside so that it gives a bit of support and cushion. Many of these issues are absent with framed packs.

But let’s now explain the reasons for using frameless packs mentioned in the list above.

Body shape not suitable for a framed design

I know for sure that there are people who claim that they have a back shaped so that it does not fit a pack with a frame. My guess is that some of them have not experimented enough with framed packs to find the best fit.

The reason for saying this is the following. My very first framed pack, which was an external frame pack, was indeed bruising my spine, and it did not feel comfortable at all. It had a horizontal bar that was in the middle of my back, and whenever I was in situations to bend the body a bit, it would hurt me.

This was so with that particular pack and with none other ever. Nowadays, all my hiking packs have a frame.

But in any case, I would not argue with such users. If they are convinced that a framed pack is not a choice for them, then this is it, and it should be taken as a fact.

When you want to have your hips free for a wide range of movements

This may be in situations of scrambling and/or when using a pack with a narrow strap instead of a proper hip belt. Such a strap is then in place only too limit the pack bouncing or moving sidewise on your back.

On the other hand, if the pack has no true hip belt, then the frame is almost pointless in any case.

When you use a climbing harness

As you know, a climbing harness has its own hip belt where you may have lots of climbing items attached. In the simplest case this can be only a ferrata Y-shaped lanyard.

This can interfere with the pack’s hip belt which, on the other hand, is present because the pack has a frame; these two elements go together.

Obviously, if you are at places where you need a climbing harness, this is more important than the pack’s harness. So it is natural that you prioritize even if you are not against the backpack frame.

When you do not want to have a hip belt

Without asking why, but indeed if for any reason you do not want a hip belt, then having a frame makes no much sense. As already pointed out, a frame and a hip belt work together so that the weight is transferred from the shoulders to the hips.

When you carry a small day pack with not much weight

My packs that I use in daily life do not have a hip belt and they are also frameless. I have shown one in my text describing differences between hiking and ordinary packs.

The point is, when the pack is light enough, there is no need for a frame and for a hip belt. Such a pack is frequently only with a few items inside. It is flexible, it does not need to have a contour and shape, and therefore it fits wherever I put it.

This all holds for small hiking packs as well. Having a frame (and a hip belt) would only mean extra weight.

Frameless packs may be more affordable

I guess this is easily understandable, there is less material used in their construction and less technology required for the frame, stays, and a solid panel. Frameless packs are normally much simpler and this is what makes them less expensive.

In framed packs sometimes these mentioned elements are removable and this may imply extra zippers and Velcro tabs. So quite generally, more working hours are needed to make framed packs.

Frameless packs may be lighter

Do you know that many top-quality packs with breathable trampoline style tensioned mesh have a steel frame? Sometimes there are also central stays and HDPE panels.

As I pointed out a few times already, such framed packs normally always include a padded hip belt because weight is transferred to the hips. So this is a big addition to the overall weight.

It is easy to understand why frameless packs are usually lighter, but not always of course.

Examples of frameless packs

There are many examples among day packs, one of them is this REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack shown in the picture. It weighs only 400 grams.

REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack.
REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack.

As for larger frameless packs, you might want to check the Mountainsmith Zerk 40 which is an ultralight pack. You can see it in this video:


So you have seen it all, there are some advantages of frameless packs and there may be good reasons for using them. Their disadvantages are also numerous but this is not the central question discussed here.

Let me know if you think that I have missed mentioning something important, there is a comment box below. Check also my text with tips about finding a hiking pack for an X-small woman.

This site is all about information regarding outdoors, so bookmark it and keep as a reference, you have new texts added here all the time. Thank you for reading.

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Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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